Science Saturday makes learning super fun for kids

People check out the walk-through inflatable colon exhibit during Super Science Saturday at Jefferson Community College. Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times.

Clutching a PlayStation video game controller with both hands, 10-year-old Seth E. Filkes deftly took command of a 68-pound, explosive-detecting robot Saturday at Jefferson Community College in Watertown.

It took the boy just a few minutes to figure out the controls. He used them to lower the robot’s arm to grasp a mock grenade on the floor. Then, extending the arm upward, he made the robot drop the device.

“It really is a lot of fun because I’m used to the PlayStation controller,” Seth said of the simulation, one of many activities for youngsters at Super Science Saturday. “Basically it’s left, right and forward. I want to make one of my own.”

Soldiers in uniform from a Fort Drum bomb squad guided youths as they manipulated the robots. The high-tech machines are equipped with remote-controlled cameras, enabling their movements to be directed from long distances and seen with a laptop computer. Their mechanical arms rotate 360 degrees, and their claws can grip objects with 35 pounds of pressure.

As Peter W. Filkes watched the robot being operated by his son, a fifth-grader attending Indian River Central School, he offered words of encouragement.

He said his son’s mind lights up when it comes to any engineering or science activity.

“The dexterity it took him to pick that up is very amazing,” Mr. Filkes said. “He doesn’t know these are used to pick up live bombs that could kill people; to him it’s just a robot that picks up things. He’s interested in the mechanics of it.”

Saturday’s event also showcased a giant exhibit depicting a human colon. Parents and their children looked at diseases lining its walls as they walked through the cavernous inflatable; among them were colon cancer, polyps and bowel inflammation. They learned that polyps, for example, are fleshy pieces of growth inside the colon that can be detected and excised by a doctor during a colonoscopy procedure. Outside the exhibit, children looked into microscopes to see real examples of infected cell tissue.

Standing at the entrance to this air-filled colon was a young woman dressed as an evil-looking purple pest. Maria V. Velez, a freshman studying biology and chemistry at JCC, was representing a giardia pathogen — a harmful organism that can infect the digestive tract and cause stomach sickness and diarrhea.

The pathogen “can be in drinking water, pools, rivers, uncooked food and changing tables for babies with diapers,” said the 23-year-old student, who is also an active-duty soldier at Fort Drum. A native of Colombia, she immigrated to the U.S. four years ago to enlist in the military. She lauded the plethora of activities for children Saturday.

“I love children, and this can teach them to be healthy,” the aspiring pediatrician said. “A lot of children don’t wash their hands, and they can even get this by putting toys in their mouth.”

Youngsters also had a chance to experience being strapped on a backboard by paramedics, simulating what it would be like to be transported after a serious back injury. JCC paramedic students Tracy D. Evans and Matthew T. Williams carefully hoisted up 7-year-old Marena J. Grenier as she lay strapped to the board. They counted to three out loud before setting her down on a stretcher with wheels.

“Showing kids this takes the fear out of it for them,” said Miss Evans, who is doing her volunteer hours for the paramedic program with the Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service in Clayton.

Other children spent much of their time creating floatable boats using plastic cups and aluminum foil, an activity hosted by students from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. The goal of the experiment, freshman Benjamin Lee said, is to see how many washers the boats would hold before sinking to the bottom of a plastic tub filled with water.

“One kid made a giant mass of cups covered in tinfoil, which held 46 washers,” he said. “It’s nice for kids to get into science when they’re young because, as you get older, that curiosity dissipates.”

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times staff writer